Pakistan has extended the ban on its eastern airspace for fourth time until 12 July. Air India has written to IATA seeking help

New Delhi: The country’s national carrier Air India has lost Rs 720 crore in the four months through 27 February as Pakistan continues with the ban on its eastern airspace for Indian airlines.

Since February, Air India has been losing approximately Rs 6 crore on a daily basis due to the cancellations of flights on some routes and re-routing of some other flights as a result of the ban, said an official spokesperson of the carrier.

On Thursday, Pakistan extended the ban on its eastern airspace until 12 July for all overflying/transit flights to and from India, further bleeding the Indian carriers.

As governments on both sides of the border don’t seem to be budging, the national carrier has now written to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), seeking help.

“If we were a private airline, we would have drowned by now going by our daily losses but we are managing to cope up with this,” said an Air India official on condition of anonymity.

“The loss on a daily basis is much higher than the total income of our employees. This is the reason, we have written to IATA to participate and sort this issue at the earliest.”

The Air India official said IATA may ask the Pakistan civil aviation authorities to talk to the Indian government and the Indian airlines.

“IATA is also capable of cancelling the candidature of Pakistan if this closure is extended for long.”

The IATA is a trade association for the world’s airlines, representing some 290 carriers or 82 per cent of total air traffic. It supports areas of aviation activity and helps formulate industry policy on aviation issues.

Air India’s Losses

Following the closure of Pakistan’s airspace in February, six Air India international flights — Delhi-Madrid, Madrid-Delhi, Delhi-Birmingham, Birmingham-Delhi, Delhi-Amritsar-Birmingham and Birmingham-Amritsar-Delhi — were cancelled.

Further, about 10 flights were re-routed to avoid the Pakistan airspace, resulting in an increased flight time by over three hours each. Losses have been piling up.

In the financial year 2018-19, Air India registered a loss of Rs 7,635 crore, against a total debt of Rs 58,000 crore as on 31 March 2019.

The numbers were shared with the Rajya Sabha by Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri Wednesday, said the Air India official. The carrier had earlier submitted the same to the ministry.

Though the airline has been under losses, it is planning a major expansion plan to meet the heavy demand of seats by increasing its routes and operation of additional flights on domestic and international routes, an Air India statement said last month.

Earlier in June, Air India decided, after seven years, to restore its previous prime routes — Delhi-Dubai and Mumbai-Dubai — after Jet Airways became non-operational in April.

Among the Indian airlines, Air India now has the maximum number of international flights to US and Europe. A majority of them fly over Pakistan.

Pakistan Airspace Ban

Indian airlines were barred from flying over Pakistan airspace after the Indian Air Force carried out air strikes on a terror camp in Balakot on 26 February. The strikes were in response to the terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama on 14 February.

Pakistan airspace has been closed for all flights since the strikes. It was opened briefly for some international flights — but not Indian ones — in March.